Sunday, 31 August 2014

PBOTD 31st August: Monica Edwards - The Summer of the Great Secret

The Summer of the Great Secret was one of the earliest books Monica Edwards wrote. Published by Collins in 1948, it is the second of the Romney Marsh series. It was illustrated by Anne Bullen, who illustrated the first four of Monica Edwards' books (Wish for a Pony, The Summer of the Great Secret, No Mistaking Corker and The Midnight Horse). 


Monica Edwards was keen not to be regarded as a pony book author, which was something of a problem after the huge success of her first book, Wish for a Pony. I do wonder if it's because of this that Tamzin declares in The Summer of the Great Secret:
“I don’t want to grow up a long-faced horsey woman.”

And I do also wonder just how many of Monica Edwards' readers shared that wish.




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More on Monica Edwards

Saturday, 30 August 2014

PBOTD 30th August: Patricia Leitch - Riding Course Summer

Riding Course Summer was one of the first non-Jinny Patricia Leitch titles I read. In fact, I think it was the first, and I think it's quite possibly the first pony book I read in which the ponyless girl remains that way at the end. Patricia Leitch's world was a more realistic one than most pony book authors.


She could stand back and see the humour in some of the situations in which pony lovers find themselves. The pony book can be a humourless beast but Riding Course Summer has a wry and understated humour. Leitch was a fine observer of family dynamics. Angy has set up a riding course, but won’t be able to take part herself, as she has no pony. She bemoans the fact to her family.
“I do wish I had a pony,” I told my family.
“I do wish I had a fridge,” said Mummy.
“I do wish I had a new suit,” said Daddy. And if Liz had been in she would have said that she did wish she had a new typewriter.” 
I love it.



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More on Patricia Leitch

Friday, 29 August 2014

PBOTD 29th August: Jean Slaughter Doty - Summer Pony

I do like the review Pony Book Chronicles does of this book: "without a few useful coincidences, the heroes of pony books would be stuck doing what we did as kids - reading library books on the porch while wishing we had ponies." There are some fairly major coincidences in this book in order to make the plot work, but you can forgive it that because the portrayal of girl, and of unsatisfactory pony, is so real. 


Ginny's parents know nothing about horses whatsoever, and Ginny's own  knowledge is basic, to say the least. She rents a pony for the summer, and when the book opens she's desperately looking forward to the pony's arrival. But the pony she chose, Mokey, is thin, and frankly, a disappointment.

As the summer progresses, the whole family learns how to cope. Summer Pony is one of those pony books that manages to impart its informational load without clobbering you around the head with it. It's a lovely read, and beautifully illustrated by Sam Savitt. 

If you want to buy a copy of the book and want the original text: beware. Don't buy a copy of the most recent edition, pictured below. It's a simplified and shortened version for the unconfident reader.



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More on Jean Slaughter Doty

Thursday, 28 August 2014

PBOTD 28th August: Pamela MacGregor Morris - Not Such a Bad Summer

I think if there were an award for most typically British pony book title, Not Such a Bad Summer would win it. It really could mean anything, from 'it only rained for four weeks out of the six,' to ' we managed to spend all of it at our estate in Scotland with our own herd of Highlands, but don't want to appear boastful.'


In this case, if you'd asked the protagonists of the book what their summer had been like, and they'd replied "Not such a bad summer," what they'd actually have meant was that they'd hurled themselves about Dartmoor looking for an escaped prisoner, who repented (perhaps not totally convincingly), and then had to be rescued from worse criminals.

Pretty normal really.

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More on Pamela MacGregor Morris

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

PBOTD 27th August: Kelly McKain - Megan and Mischief

Kelly McKain is one of the modern breed of pony book author. Pony books aren't the only string to her bow, by any means. She's written several other children's series: including Fairy House, Totally Lucy, Mermaid Rock and the Goddess books. 

Over 2006-2012 she wrote the twelve book Pony Camp Diaries series. There haven't been any pony book series since: whether because the author prefers writing other things, or sales didn't hold up of Pony Camp Diaries I do not know. 


The Pony Camp Diaries series is one of those things that is not necessarily going to appeal to adults. It's positively peppered with exclamation marks, and every book is written in that relentlessly jolly style that many children's programmes of today adopt. When my daughter and I read it, she didn't mind the style at all but it nearly drove me demented. I was reduced to picking pages at random and counting the exclamation marks just to see if they were as common right the way through the book. (Yes).

The books, however, deal with one of those things that all those who love ponies but don't have one see as the absolutely ideal holiday: a stay at a riding centre where you get to look after and ride the same pony for a week. It's as close as many of us come to actually having one of our own.

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More on Kelly McKain

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Review: Hannah Hooton - Share and Share Alike

Hannah Hooton is a rare breed: an author of romantic novels whose books I'd happily seek out. I'm not a big consumer of romance fiction, but although Hannah's books have lashings of romance, they mix this with a detective story and a thoroughly convincing racing background, so if you couldn't care two hoots whether the heroine and her amour get together, there is plenty more to interest you.

In Share and Share Alike, Tessa's brother Gus manages a race horse syndicate, and through him, Tessa has acquired a leg of a racehorse, as well as the collection of wildly different characters who between them own Ta' Qali. She's intrigued by one member of the syndicate - the author Hugh, but finds the saturnine acadmic Sin Sinclair oddly attractive. But none of that matters much when Ta'Qali, after a storming first race that fires the syndicate's ambitions, is found injured. Deliberately..



From that point on, suspicions are raised against most of the syndicate. I can generally work out whodunnit, but I must admit I didn't have a clue here. Hannah Hootton lays the trail very well - the dénouement, when it arrives, is entirely believable, and entirely unexpected.

Romances, like all genre fiction, only work if the characters make you want to follow them, and Tessa grabs you up and takes you with her. I particularly liked the fact that she's not a ditzy heroine - she runs her own business successfully, and when her ancestral home burns down, she's in there helping with the rebuild. As for the romantic hero, Sin is the standard model who at first appears to heartily dislike our heroine, but he has a certain icy charm I found I wasn't immune to.

If you like romantic novels and racing, you'll love this. The racing scenes are well done, and you feel the excitement of being there as the horses - and among them, your horse, thunder past. Probably a bit late for a beach read now, but Share and Share Alike is just right for curling up with when it's foul outside. Rather like now, in fact.

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Hannah Hooton - Share and Share Alike
Aspen Valley Books, £9.99
Ebook, £2.37 (Kindle, Kobo)

Hannah Hooton's website

Age range: adult
Themes: racing ethics, some horse cruelty

PBOTD 26th August: E H Parsons - Quest for a Pony

Elizabeth Helen Parsons (E H Parsons) was a breeder of New Forest Ponies. Two of her ponies, Garth Remus and Deeracres Sally, were regularly driven by the Queen.

On a less exalted note, Mrs Parsons and her family, fortunately for me, who loves this sort of thing, were endlessly inventive contributors to fancy dress classes. They were stalwarts of the Ponies of Britain Shows, and devised some spectacular costumes. Mrs Parsons also wrote pony books: three, all featuring New Forest ponies. Today's PBOTD, following the holiday theme, is her Quest for a Pony.


There are four of the Knight children, but they have just the two ponies between them - a situation, it must be said, many pony-less children would have died for - and so they set off in their horse drawn caravan to drive from Haslemere to the New Forest to address the not enough ponies situation, making money as they go. 

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More on E H Parsons

Monday, 25 August 2014

PBOTD 25th August: Diana Pullein-Thompson - Ponies on the Trail

Today's pony book is the second in Diana Pullein-Thompson's Sandy and Fergus series. In the first book, Ponies in Peril, Sandy and Fergus move to the country, make friends, and manage to buy a pony. Their neighbours run a trekking centre, and in the second of the series, Ponies on the Trail (1979), they're asked to help out on a week long trek.




As ever with pony treks, the trekkers are a very mixed bunch, and this leads to all sorts of problems.

My own experience of pony trekking was limited to a few long rides I managed if we managed to land up on holiday somewhere close to a riding school. My main requirement of a holiday was in fact it being close enough for me to ride during the week we were off. I don't remember doing it that often, so I'm guessing that other requirements came rather further up the scale when my parents were choosing holiday destinations.

I do remember one trekking centre we went to in Wales for a morning's ride. My sister and I turned up, only to find that this was the sort of place where most people were there for the week. To do this was my ultimate dream holiday. Every year, PONY Magazine would fill up with adverts for trekking centres, and I would drool, longing to be sent to one.

The people at the Welsh centre had achieved the dream: we hadn't, and they knew it. They knew where everything was. We didn't. They knew what all the ponies were called. We didn't. We had to be told what horses we were going to ride. They didn't, because they'd been allotted a pony for the week. I wish I could tell you that once my sister and I were on our ponies, we outrode the weekly incumbents, leaving them gasping at our prowess, but I can't. I can't actually remember anything about the trek at all. What I do remember is being made to feel outsiders, and it mattering. Once we were actually out on the trek, it was fine. There's a limit to how much conversation you can hold when you're in a line of horses.

Sandy and Fergus series
Ponies in Peril
Ponies in the Valley
Ponies on the Trai
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More on Diana Pullein-Thompson

Sunday, 24 August 2014

PBOTD 24th August: Hilda Boden - Pony Trek

Hilda Bodenham Morris (1901- 1988) wrote over 30 books, of which at least nine were pony books. Her very first pony book was Pony Trek, published in 1947, which is also notable for being, if not the first story about a long ride, the first book to call itself Pony Trek. 



Pony Trek is about Jennifer, John, and their mother Jane. They go to Wales to buy Welsh ponies, but rather than sending them back on the train, decide to ride them home. 

Hilda Boden started writing to boost the family's income. Roger, the youngest of her children, always believed that Hilda’s books related incidents that had happened to the family as children, but I don't know whether this included a lengthy trek from Wales!
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More on Hilda Boden

Saturday, 23 August 2014

PBOTD 23rd August: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Pony Club Trek

Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Woodbury Pony Club series is one that gets better as it goes on. Pony Club Trek (1985) is the last in the series, and the one in which we get to see the Pony Club as real people and not just as objects of all the instruction. The characters in this trilogy are unusual in that no one is particularly redeemed - they carry on being themselves, just riding a bit better and perhaps understanding each other better, all of which is perfectly believable.


The series takes place over a short time frame, with Pony Club Cup taking place in the Easter summer holidays, and Pony Club Trek in the summer holidays. It's not particularly realistic to expect that there will be major changes in character and behaviour in that short a time, and there aren't. I must admit that I did long, when I read the book, for the ghastly Sarah and her even more ghastly mother, Mrs Rooke to well and truly get their come uppance, but they don't: Sarah does though become the victim of her character flaws, not improving at all as she refuses to listen to anyone's opinion but her own. 

I do know that Josephine Pullein-Thompson did base many of her characters on real people. The hideous Pony Club mother that is Mrs Rooke has many equivalents in real life, so I hope that the fictional Mrs Rooke is a composite and has no real life equivalent, and that Sarah doesn't either. She must have become a monster. 

In a book full of richly drawn characters, it's odd that there's no Major Holbrooke equivalent. He was an irascible, confident and knowledgeable voice throughout the Noel and Henry series, who we saw as a person with a life outside the Pony Club. We know as little about David the instructor at the end as we do at the beginning.

If you haven't read the Woodbury series, I can highly recommend it. The books were published in paperback, and then in a collected edition in hardback, and all are easy to find.

The Woodbury Pony Club Series
Pony Club Cup
Pony Club Challenge
Pony Club Trek

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More on Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Friday, 22 August 2014

PBOTD 22nd August: Jo Furminger - Blackbirds' Pony Trek

I first came across Jo Furminger in a Nigel Williams' secondhand bookshop in Cecil Court in London. It's a cut through between St Martin's Lane and the Charing Cross Road, and it's home to some very splendid shops. Sadly, Nigel Williams is no longer among them. He used to have two shops; a specialist children's and one over the road specialising in crime and P G Wodehouse, but he died in 2010 at the age of 48, and his shops closed.


Blackbirds' Pony Trek I remember being remarkably cheap - it was £5.00. I asked the lady who was looking after the shop if they had much else in the pony book line, and being told they didn't, because there wasn't any call for it. I've been into two secondhand bookshops recently who had shelves dedicated to pony fiction, so I'm delighted that there is now a market for it.

The Blackbirds title I bought hasn't shot up in value: the later books in the series can be tricky to find and therefore expensive, but the first few appeared in paperback, which always helps, and they appear to have been stocked by libraries too.

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The Blackbirds Series
A Pony at Blackbird Cottage
Blackbirds Ride a Mystery Trail
Blackbirds’ Pony Trek
Blackbirds and the Gift Pony
Blackbird’s Own Gymkhana
Saddle Up Blackbirds
Blackbirds at the Gallop
Blackbirds and the Midnight Horse
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More on Jo Furminger
Nigel Williams' obituary

Thursday, 21 August 2014

PBOTD 21st August: Pat Smythe - Three Jays on Holiday

Today's book, Three Jays on Holiday, follows on the holiday theme. I've never actually done a statistical analysis of when most pony books were set, but I'd be surprised if the most popular time frame wasn't during the summer holidays. People are free of the distraction of school, and there's the possibility of adventure anywhere in the world, depending on where you send your characters on holiday.


Having said that, pony adventure tends to be firmly based in the characters' home country, as taking your pony with you to Tenerife is a bit of a palaver. However, you might be lucky enough to ride someone else's horses while you're abroad, and that's what happens to Pat Smythe's Three Jays in Three Jays on Holiday. Published by Cassell in 1958, it sees the Jays going to the South of France, where they're supposed to meet Jacky's father and his yacht. They've persuaded Jacky's cousin, Darcy, to take them there in his Bentley. They're all set to meet Pat in the Camargue, where they get to ride the horses. It's an interesting twist to the usual plot, and I wonder if Pat's own globetrotting lifestyle as one of our best show jumpers inspired it. 




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More on Pat Smythe

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

PBOTD 20th August: Judith M Berrisford - Jackie on Pony Island

Jackie on Pony Island is Judith M Berrisford's ninth Jackie book, in which Jackie and Babs help Dave and his family with a beach riding scheme. Judith M Berrisford specialised in holiday adventure: so much so that Jackie and Babs cram far more adventures into the summer holidays than is actually possible with the time span of the series. I think they live in another universe; either one where parallel adventures are possible, or one where the summer holidays start in June and end in September. I think I'd find the second one rather more appealing.


Pony Island contains two more of the author's tropes: trial by water, and a disapproving, older, male character. Jackie and her friend Babs are not good when near the sea. In Jackie’s Pony Camp Summer (1968), she and Misty are swept off a causeway from an island to the shore and have to be rescued; in Jackie on Pony Island (1977), Jackie and Babs are late leaving the island, and have to be rescued from deep water on the causeway.  

Dave finds the girls a major irritation. After he has to save Jackie and Babs from their plunge into the sea off the causeway, he is livid, and condemns them as “the silliest pony-girls I’ve had the misfortune to meet.”  He's not alone in condemning Jackie and Babs: most of the books have a similar character. Poor Jackie and Babs find happiness in the end by gaining the approval of these paternalistic figures: never by striking out on their own. Success is always seen in terms of pleasing male authority figures, which gives the books a helpless, puppyish feel. 

When I read the Jackie books myself as a child, I certainly didn't put any feminist interpretation on what happened. I do remember feeling puzzled that the men and boys were always so very stern, and feeling that it was unfair. It was, and it is. Maybe there's room for someone to write a story where Jackie and Babs realise they don't have to please male authority. They can do things on their own. 



The Jackie Series
Jackie Won a Pony, 1958
Ten Ponies and Jackie, 1959
Jackie’s Pony Patrol, 1961
Jackie and the Pony Trekkers, 1963
Jackie’s Pony Camp Summer, 1968
Jackie and the Pony Boys, 1970
Jackie’s Show Jumping Surprise, 1973
Jackie and the Misfit Pony, 1976
Jackie on Pony Island, 1977
Jackie and the Pony Thieves, 1978
Jackie and the Phantom Ponies, 1979
Jackie and the Moonlight Pony, 1980
Jackie and the Pony Rivals, 1981
Jackie and the Missing Showjumper, 1982
Change Ponies, Jackie! 1983
Jackie’s Steeplechase Adventure, 1984



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More on Judith M Berrisford

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

PBOTD 19th August: Patricia Leitch - Highland Pony Trek

Don't be fooled by the illustration of Highland Pony Trek, which promises a conventional equine holiday adventure. In Patricia Leitch's Highland Pony Trek (1964), Scotland is a Scotland that is threatened – heroine Innes and her family are hanging on to what they love under threat from the nouveau riches who see Scotland simply as a playground. 


The characters in Highland Pony Trek aren't the convention sort who believe that if they work hard everything will work out. There's much more failure than is usual in a pony story. Elder sister Fiona is inclined to give up, and gets bored with the whole trekking idea half way through. 

You can see in this book the germination of the themes Patricia Leitch was to explore at length in the Jinny series: the danger of having too much money, which insulates you from the natural world, and the real difficulty of making your way in a world which view you at best dispassionately.


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Monday, 18 August 2014

PBOTD 18th August: Jane McIlwaine - Pony Trekking Summer

Pony Trekking Summer isn't a book that appears that often. This author is often confused with the American Jane McIlvaine, but they are different people. Pony Trekking Summer was published in 1965, and is the author's only book. It's set in the Spey Valley in the Highlands of Scotland, and is the story of children who help out at the local trekking centre.





The book’s a good read: it’s not the only story of deer poachers confounded by any means, but it’s a good one, crammed with Highland ponies, The characters are well done and refreshingly normal, and the story is believable.

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More on Jane McIlwaine

Sunday, 17 August 2014

PBOTD 17th August: Jo Packer - Gymkhana Trek

I do occasionally keep books just because I like the covers, and that's the case with Jo Packer's Gymkhana Trek (1959). The story itself is not that thrilling: four children go off on a trek, and take part in various gymkhanas as they go. It's a theme that was dealt with rather better by Australian authors Christine Stewart and Julie Yager in their Six Horses and a Caravan (1964).



But Gymkhana Trek does have a lovely cover by Peter Biegel, and that's why I've kept it. It's also why I've kept the same author's No Pony Like Pepper, and I'm ashamed to say I haven't even read that.

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More on Jo Packer

Saturday, 16 August 2014

PBOTD 16th August: Margaret MacPherson - Ponies for Hire

Margaret MacPherson set Ponies for Hire, and her other two children's books, on the Isle of Skye, where she lived. The book has an authentic background: crofting has never been an easy lifestyle, and Kirsty and her family are struggling to survive. Her brother, Robbie has had enough of farming using Highland pony horsepower, and wants a tractor. If he can’t farm in an easier way, he’ll go off to sea. Kirsty of course is desperate for this not to happen. Her widowed mother starts to take in holiday makers to make enough money to pay for the tractor, and Kirsty, together with their first guest, Nick, start a small trekking operation with the rest of the community’s ponies, fortunately on their summer break from farming.


This is a book it took me decades to read, despite the fact I encountered it more than once. It was published as part of Collins Three Great Pony Stories, and I never got any further than the middle story, Monica Edwards' The Midnight Horse. I loved The Midnight Horse with a passion. I was absolutely fascinated by Tamzin and her ability (which sadly deserts her after this book) to construct horses out of Plasticene. I, in common, with every other child educated in the 1960s and 1970s, was an old hand with Plasticene, which used to come in huge blocks at school, but try as I might I could never make anything like Tamzin's creations. And so I lived through her, imagining that my fingers would actually reproduce in Plasticene the beautiful creatures in my head.

And that alas was what I think did for Margaret MacPherson - simply where her book was in the collection - the last story in the book. If she'd have been before The Midnight Horse, I'd have read her on the way to it, as I read They Bought Her a Pony, despite the fact I was never that keen on it.

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More on Margaret MacPherson

Friday, 15 August 2014

PBOTD 15th August: Primrose Cumming - The Mystery Trek

When you're selling many pony books a week, you don't tend to remember individual books. You remember the ones that are spectacularly rare - the ones you're excited just to have held before you send them off; the beautiful books; the books that someone has been desperate to find, but everything else comes under the heading of general stock, which you're glad to see going out of the door on its way to its new owners.


The books I do remember individually are the ones I bought at the beginning of my bookselling career. I remember buying Primrose Cumming's The Mystery Trek from a stall in Kettering's antique market. There were a couple of sellers who specialised in books, but they mostly sold modern paperbacks. The other stalls had the occasional book which was rather more interesting, and I can even remember where The Mystery Trek was: at the back of a white tableclothed stall, with a few other books. 

I bought The Mystery Trek, and put it up on eBay, where it duly sold. I'd never heard of Primrose Cumming before, and this was the first of her books I'd read. It's one of her later titles, being published in 1964, and although there's plenty about a trek, the main focus of the story is the relationship between two sisters, Leonie and Susan.

Leonie is deeply depressed after the death of her horse, and at first refuses to come trekking with Susan. When they turn up to the trek and it turns out that there is no one to lead it, Leonie is persuaded to set aside her resolve never to ride again. Slowly, over the course of the trek, she comes to life again.




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More on Primrose Cumming

Thursday, 14 August 2014

PBOTD 14th August: Decie Merwin - Holiday Summer

American author Decie Merwin wrote possibly one of the best holiday pony books, Holiday Summer. Originally published in America as Somerhaze Farm, the book was inspired by Decie's experiences of Kent and Sussex when she lived there as a young woman. She'd loved horses since she was young, so combining the two loves must have seemed an obvious thing to do.

Decie in 1917
Holiday Summer was published by Collins Seagull, and then in an even cheaper version by the Children's Press, so the book is easy to find, and not at all expensive. The UK version has a front cover by Sheila Rose: I assume the original cover was by Decie herself. Although lovely, the book's UK publishers presumably felt a cover more in keeping with the general run of bright, sunlit covers was what was required. The subject matter is exactly the same: two girls riding away from a farm, but the treatment is very different.




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More on Decie Merwin

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

PBOTD 13th August: Marjorie Mary Oliver & Eva Ducat - Sea Ponies

Sea Ponies is one of my favourite holiday adventures. Besides allowing children independence, holidays can act as vehicles of change. It's a truism in pony books that the countryside is liberating, and one of the earliest exponents of this point of view was Marjorie Mary Oliver. Her loosely connected The Ponies of Bunts (1933), Sea Ponies (1935) and Ponies and Caravans (1941) all have more or less the same plot: children who are constrained in some way experience the liberating experience of the countryside through a woman determined to defy convention and live a life surrounded by a collection of children and animals (though mostly ponies), children and ponies alike being managed with casual authority. 


Roger, hero of Sea Ponies, is one of the most pathetic of the townie children. Sent to England and his aunt for his health, away from his parents and India, he is muffled up even in the heat of summer. Hideously fussy Aunt Matilda thinks pips in jam are dangerous, and seizes every chance to forbid indulgence in the lethal substance, and in anything else that might be even remotely fun.

The repressed nature of Roger’s existence is contrasted with the utter lack of care for what anyone may think that is expressed by Chris, one of the children who lives in freedom with Miss Rhoda and her collection of animals, and who eventually takes Roger on and sets him free. Waiting with some of the other children and ponies to meet a train, she stands casually on the back of her pony. She so inspires Roger with her insouciance that he throws his hated muffler and hat onto the station roof. Poor subdued Roger is convinced Chris and her friends must despise him. As he trails along after Aunt Matilda, he turns and looks back at the children.

“Chris was again standing like a circus rider on Tag, and as he turned she raised her hand and waved to him, and then Bunch and Geoffrey waved too. Roger dropped behind Aunt Matilda and waved back with all his might.”

 
I love this picture of a child suddenly transfigured, even though in Sea Ponies, as in the other books, nothing much happens to challenge the happy endings. Everything ends in a glorious sunlit world where everything has worked out (and everyone lives in the country).
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More on Marjorie Mary Oliver

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

PBOTD 12th August: Primrose Cumming - Four Rode Home

Primrose Cumming's Four Rode Home was published in 1951, and is the story of four friends who decide to ride from the New Forest back home to Kent. They get lost, and manage to lose the ponies too, but they do make it home in the end. I suppose that's the think with trekking stories: one always does make it home at the end. You're sent out to have independent adventure, but always in the knowledge that home is still waiting. 


Four Rode Home has a dustjacket by Maurice Tulloch. He specialised in sunlit scenes, and sadly on this cover, in children without hats. It's interesting to see that in neither of the reprints do the children acquire hats. 



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More on Primrose Cumming

Monday, 11 August 2014

PBOTD 11th August: Ruby Ferguson - Jill's Pony Trek

The PBOTD from today are going to feature holiday stories and treks. There's a rich, rich seam of these. If there are any in particular you'd like to see me include, please let me know in the comments. I'm going to start with probably the best known of all pony book trekking adventures: Jill's Pony Trek. This is the last in the Jill series, and was published in 1962. It was published after the controversial Pony Jobs for Jill, which ends with Jill and Ann deciding to take secretarial courses and not pursue horsey careers. Despite taking a strict chronological approach with the series, Ruby Ferguson made this last story a retrospective. We never do find out whether Jill and Ann go ahead and trot off to secretarial college. What we get instead is Jill describing a story which happened in an earlier summer.


Jill and Ann are asked to go on a pony trek, and off they set, with a party of girls, including the wonderfully named Rosevale Washington (her sisters, by the way, are Altona, Shelby and Bronx).



All goes reasonably well until Jill and Ann have to leave the rest of the trek so they can visit the farrier. Once they've done this, neither of them can remember which way the rest of the trek went. They wander on, and find a farm - fortunately for the owner of the farm, who is lying there, helpless, with a broken leg. Ann and Jill duly get the woman shipped off to hospital, and stay at the farm for the night. This allows Ruby to introduce one of her great comic creations: the smothering Mrs Appleyard. It is unthinkable, she says, for the poor girls to stay at the farm overnight on their own. She's going to stay with them, and she's brought her nightie and her little alarm clock. Fortunately Mrs Appleyard's alarm clock lets her down, and she's still snoring loudly when Jill and Ann escape early the next morning. 




Jill's Pony Trek, is, as Jill says, an adventure: "We do have adventures, but they're such homely sort of ones, I mean, we never get mixed up with Interpol, or see ghost riders , or anything like that. People in books do."

I do wonder if Ruby was having a swipe at the wilder reaches of pony fiction here. 




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More on Ruby Ferguson

Sunday, 10 August 2014

PBOTD 10th August: Pauline Devine - Rider by the Lake

Author Pauline Devine has herself exhibited successfully at Dublin Show. As far as I know, her characters Eithne and Mandy of Riders by the Grey Lake don't reach those heights. They are as different as chalk and cheese, and there's no points of similiarity between their ponies or their parents either.




To make up for what is otherwise going to be a very short post, here's a glorious Pathé News clip of the 1935 Dublin Horse Show.




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More on Pauline Devine
More on the Dublin Show

Saturday, 9 August 2014

PBOTD 9th August: Sheena Wilkinson - Grounded

Today's PBOTD continues the Irish theme of the last few days.

Sheena Wilkinson's first pony story, Taking Flight is the story of two cousins; spoiled princess Vicky and out of control Declan. At the end of Taking Flight, Declan has discovered his love for horses, and despite his best attempts to ruin things for himself, has the offer of a job with the owner of the livery stables where Vicky's show jumper Flight is stabled. It looks as if everything is set fair for pony book success - Declan the show jumper; Declan the eventer.... an inspiring story of a tough working class boy made good.

And so it is as the sequel, Grounded, opens. Declan is jumping Flight at the biggest show he's ever taken part in. They win. Declan sees the owner of a big stable approaching him: for a moment he thinks he's to be offered a job, but no. Vicky has sold Flight to him. That's the first blow. But Declan manages to find a new job in a German jumping stable: it will mean starting at the bottom, but it's a foot in the door. And then the major blow falls: Declan's girlfriend Seaneen is pregnant.

At once, Declan's world is rocked to its core. At least his mother, now sober, is still around, but Declan, not out of his teens himself, has to make some important decisions, very fast indeed. Declan is not used to asking for help: it's something he's extraordinarily bad at, and something which alienates him from those who love him and want to help. Although he decides to stay with Seaneen, his heart is by no means in it, and his problems have only just begun.


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More on Sheena Wilkinson
More on the Dublin Show


Friday, 8 August 2014

PBOTD 8th August: Jane McIlvaine - Cammie's Cousin

Today's PBOTD is by American author Jane McIlvaine (also known as Kane McIlvaine McClary). She wrote a short series of books about a girl called Cammie. She visits Ireland with the Courtney family, and is asked at the last minute to show a pony at the Dublin Horse Show.


Some of the author's own pony-based experiences were rather less exalted. She went to a one-room school in Middleburg, Virginia. To get there, she rode her pony, but as the pony usually galloped off home during the day, she had to walk home. Her fictional heroine Cammie did rather better.

The Cammie Series
Cammie’s Choice
Cammie’s Challenge
Cammie’s Cousin
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More on Jane McIlvaine
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Thursday, 7 August 2014

PBOTD 7th August: Pamela Macgregor Morris - The Blue Rosette

There aren't many of Pamela Macgregor Morris' books that I can feature on the PBOTD because they're illustrated by Lionel Edwards, who I can't use for copyright reasons. Fortunately The Blue Rosette (1950) is illustrated by Michael Lyne. It's one of those books I never have managed to get my hands on. I've never even had one and sold it.



I'm afraid our connections with Dublin are going to get a bit tenuous now. This book starts off with hero Terence Malone riding at Dublin, being noticed, and then being employed in England, where most of the action of the book is set.

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More on Pamela Macgregor Morris
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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Review: Susan Ketchen's Made That Way & Grows That Way

I do love this trilogy: Susan Ketchen’s Born that Way books first came my way last year when I read the first of the series, Born That Way. Sylvia, Susan Ketchen’s heroine, is a brilliant creation. She’s funny, observant, and absolutely devoid of self pity about her condition, Turner’s Syndrome. It means she’s very small for her age, and she hasn’t hit puberty yet, and won’t either unless she gets hormone treatment. The fact she looks different makes her a target for the school bullies, but Sylvia tackles this in the same way she does everything else: with a quirky resolve.


In many ways, she’s far more sorted out than her parents, and quite a few of the other adults she comes across. As an adult, it’s quite easy to forget that relationships are two-way: that your view of a child isn’t all that matters. They have their own view, and oh goodness, does Sylvia have her own views. I love the fact that we see where she doesn’t understand things, and see how she works them out. I love her astuteness when it comes to other people, particularly her parents.

Sylvia’s parents, as well as being thoroughly believable, are great comic creations. Her therapist mother has a theory for everything that happens to Sylvia, and she’s always, always, just slightly off beam. She never really quite gets it right.

There’s one place where Sylvia’s condition doesn’t matter, and that’s with horses. Horses don’t care how tall you are, or whether you’ve hit puberty. Sylvia can ride, and she rides well, because she’s able to use her gifts of understanding and observation with horses. In the next two books of the trilogy, Sylvia gets a pony, Brooklyn. He’s a bit of a surprise offering. Sylvia has no idea what he’s like, because her grandfather’s bought him and is shipping him to her. When that horse trailer arrives, everyone gets a surprise, because when Brooklyn turns up, to say he’s not every girl’s dream horse is a bit of an understatement.

He too has his own way of doing things, and like Sylvia, that’s because of his genetic inheritance. The last book sees Sylvia, and her next horse Brooklyn II, getting to know each other. Brooklyn doesn’t care about Sylvia’s hormones, but hormones of all kinds are an issue in the last of the trilogy, Grows that Way. As well as Sylvia’s need for oestrogen (estrogen), there is, quite literally, a lot of testosterone about. We get to see what happens when you don’t have enough of it, and what happens when you take too much.



The last book, Grows that Way is a more fanciful read than the earlier two books: it has the Sasquatch, for a start, which Sylvia finds when she goes off for a solitary (and therefore not allowed) trail ride on her horse, Brooklyn. Sylvia’s also coming to terms with her developing feelings for her friend Logan, and his for her. I found the fanciful elements of the last book a bit of a surprise, but as Sylvia tackles them the way she has everything else in her life, it all sort of works.

I really can’t recommend these books highly enough: Sylvia for me has entered the ranks of great horse and pony book creations like Jill and Jinny. She is unforgettable.

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Thank you to the publisher for sending me these books

Susan Ketchen: Made That Way
Susan Ketchen: Grows That Way
Oolichan Books: Grows £7.79, Made £3.69
Kindle: Grows £6.18, Made £3.31
Kobo: Grows £5.75, Made £4.31*

* Prices correct at time of writing

Age of main character: 13, 14
Themes: puberty, testosterone abuse


PBOTD 6th August: Bernagh Brims - Runaway Riders

The next few PBOTDs are on Dublin Show, or at least Ireland, as I can't find enough books which feature the Dublin Show to cover the full run of the show. Today's PBOTD is Bernagh Brims' Runaway Riders. Author Bernagh Brims was one of those who started early. She wrote Runaway Riders when she was fifteen, but had to learn to type before she could submit the manuscript. At the time she said she wanted to work with horses, write and play in an orchestra, but she actually ended up becoming a studio manager for the BBC in Belfast.



There aren't many pony books that place their heroes right at the top of equine sport right from the word go, with the children taking part in Dublin in Runaway Riders and Wembley in her other book, Red Rosette, but both stories are good wish fulfilment, if a little outside the average rider’s experience! 

Runaway Riders has a hero and heroine who don't see eye to eye with the aunt with whom they're staying. When she punishes them by forbidding them from riding at Dublin, they decide to make their own way there by horse, and that's exactly what they do.

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More on Bernagh Brims
More on the Dublin Show

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

PBOTD 5th August: Kathleen Mackenzie - Three of a Kind

Today's PBOTD continues the falling off theme. The pony looks blissfully unbothered by its rider's unscheduled exit. The rider seems far more interested in the three girls peering over the wall at her than in going and collecting her pony: I am tutting and I am sure the Pony Club is tutting with me.



Kathleen Mackenzie was one of those writers you feel only included ponies because they sold books. Her stories are far more family than pony orientated. Three of a Kind, which was published by Evans in 1956, features Margaret Comyn and the triplets Ginny, Janey and Jenny. Margaret's mother wants the very best horses to show, but Margaret's too nervous to ride them, and so the triplets prove a godsend, as Jenny is an excellent rider. The story is far more about the machinations of getting Jenny to ride the horse: Jenny has to ride and train the horse, Sir Peregrine, while Ginny has been given a part in a play. Ginny persuades Janey to take her place at an audition when she can’t go, and Janey takes Jenny’s place riding Sir Peregrine to win at the Southern Counties Show. Complicated stuff.

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More on Kathleen Mackenzie


Monday, 4 August 2014

Review: Tudor Robins - Appaloosa Summer

My big test of how well a book has succeeded in capturing me and wrapping me up in its world is whether I can still remember it a week after I’ve read it. Appaloosa Summer was right up there: probably I think because the author is not afraid to write a book that doesn’t follow the all too conventional horse story tropes. Meg doesn’t swan off to the end of book horse show herself: she trains someone else to. She finds she’s a talented teacher. At last: a book where the horse-that-only-I-could-ride pattern actually goes somewhere else than boosting the ego of the heroine. Yes, Meg can sort this horse out, but it doesn’t just stop there.



It’s a book which starts dramatically: Meg is jumping her beloved horse, when it all goes catastrophically wrong. When her horse dies, it’s not just her summer that’s ruined – to Meg it seems as if something more fundamental than that has shifted. Almost as an act of defiance over her rather controlling mother, Meg fights for the opportunity to work with Betsy and Carl at their B&B on an island in the St Lawrence River. 

That first bit of independence is both petrifying, and exciting, and you are rooting for Meg as she finds herself on her own in her family’s cottage, all of a sudden transformed from the kid who has been pretty much spoon fed, to the one who has to sort out her own domestic arrangements, and do a job. And work out what she feels about Jared, whose father had died, and about the appaloosa mare who needs work, and understanding. 


Appaloosa Summer is a more contemplative read than its predecessor Objects in Mirror: whilst still truthful, it’s more of a slow build. Still heartily recommended though. The author has a way of inserting her characters into your consciousness, and there they stay.

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Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book

Tudor Robins: Appaloosa Summer
Paperback £5.95
Kindle, £1.83

Age of main character: 16/17
Themes: death of parent, death of horse, loneliness, romance

PBOTD 4th August: Michael Morpurgo - War Horse

Today, 4th August 2014, it is the hundredth anniversary of the day war broke out in Europe. War Horse seems far and away the most appropriate book to be today's PBOTD, and here is my original review of it.

War Horse is near the top, if not at the top of all the books I've read for my survey of the modern pony book. That said, it's not a pony book: it is a story about a horse: perhaps more of a successor to Black Beauty than anything else. Like Black Beauty it's written in the first person. My heart sank when I started the book and realised this was how it was written. Normally I don't like first person narratives when the narrator is a horse. It takes a skilled writer to make the first person narrative work, and for it to work when you are pretending to be a horse needs more than average skill. Often a horse telling its own story tends to produce a trite and not particularly believable story. Horses don't experience human emotions, and writing as if they do lessens the horse and its story.

Joey, the book's equine hero, soon emerges as a completely credible horse. The emotions he feels: affection for those who show kindness to him; loyalty and affection for Topthorn, the large black horse who is his friend; bewilderment; and acceptance of what befalls him, are all totally believable, and totally equine. Michael Morpurgo is incredibly surefooted in his portrayal of the horse.

Joey's story opens when he is a young foal, being sold at market. He is bought by a farmer who is made vicious by worry and drink, but the farmer's son, Albert is different. He trains Joey and shows him love and kindness, but war is hovering on the horizon. Many horses were sold to the Cavalry during World War One; the Army still working to the old model of the Cavalry charge as the supreme weapon, and Joey is sold by Albert's father for the cavalry. Joey's first, and last charge, shows the utter futility of using horses in this way against machine guns. Cavalry charges soon stopped, and horses were used for transport.

Joey in fact changes sides as he crashes through to the German side during the charge and is taken to pull the German ambulances. Joey's view of the war is of course that of a horse: he does not care what side he is working for. What he cares for is how comfortable he is; and how his companions fare. Using the horse and its neutral point of view means that Michael Morpurgo can show that cruelty and kindness exist on both sides.



War Horse is not a pony book: it is a story about a horse: perhaps more of a successor to Black Beauty than anything else. Like Black Beauty, this book wants to describe the plight of the horse: it does show the horror of what the millions of horses who served in World War I went through, but not only that: the horror the human characters suffer is shown just as well. Joey's first rider dies in the first few minutes of his first action in the war.

Michael Morpurgo said:

Here's what war did. It burned flesh. It killed my uncle. It made my mother weep. So I grew up with the damage of war all around me. I learned that buildings you can put up again, but lives are wrecked forever.

By using Joey to relate what he sees, and repeat what he hears, (fortunately Joey has remarkable linguistic ability) we see the human perspective of the war too. The human characters are realised as well as the horses. They suffer and die as pointlessly. One of the most sympathetic and interesting human characters is Friedrich. Topthorn and Joey are put to pulling the guns. This was a dreadful task, particularly in winter, struggling against the mud of the trenches. Friedrich, who sings and laughs to himself, is seen as mad by some of the other soldiers, but he expresses what I think is probably Michael Morpurgo's view on the war:

"We soon discovered that he was not the slightest bit mad , but simply a kind and gentle man whose whole nature cried out against fighting a war....
'I tell you, my friends,' he said one day. 'I tell you that I am the only sane man in the regiment. It's the others that are mad, but they don't know it. They fight a war and they don't know what for. Isn't that crazy? How can one man kill another and not really know the reason why he does it, except that the other man wears a different colour uniform and speaks a different language? And it's me they call mad! You two are the only rational creatures I've met in this benighted war, and like me the only reason you're here is because you were brought here.' "

Not all the characters survive the war, and this makes this book a harrowing read at times; but it reflects how things were and is a better book for not shrinking from portraying the pity of war. Around two million horses died during the War, and around 19 million soldiers and civilians. Some children might find this hard to take, but there is enough kindness, and ultimately, triumph in the book to balance this. It's possibly a little old-fashioned to find a book uplifting, but this book is. It shows the triumph of the human and the equine spirit.


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PBOTD 3rd August: Primrose Cumming - Silver Eagle Carries On

The PBOTD for 3rd August is Primrose Cumming's Silver Eagle Carries On. Written during the Second World War, and published in 1940, it's the follow up to The Silver Eagle Riding School, and is appropriate as we're coming up to the anniversary of the start of World War I.




Silver Eagle Carries On sees the Chantrys struggling to keep their riding school going in war conditions. They fight even to keep their horses (horses were still requisitioned at the beginning of the war) and tackle petrol restrictions by teaching ponies to pull carts. It's a tough battle, keeping a business going in the teeth of restrictions on animal feed and petrol rationing, and one of the sisters going off to do war work, but the Chantrys manage.

Not many pony books were published during the war: authors were doing war work themselves, and there were paper restrictions as war went on, but Silver Eagle Carries On is particularly interesting for having been written during the war. It throws an interesting light on what it was like to be a riding school trying to survive, and is worth reading with the Pullein-Thompson sisters' autobiography Fair Girls and Grey Horses, which describes the sheer hard physical graft of keeping ponies and a riding school going during the war.

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More on Primrose Cumming